Air Force secretary mulls space acquisitions nominees

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall delivers remarks during the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 20, 2021 (U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne Clark) 

USAF Secretary Frank Kendall speaks at the Air Force Association Air, Space & Cyber Conference in National Harbor on Sept. 20, 2021. (USAF photo by Wayne Clark)

The Space Force is inching closer to getting an acquisitions chief.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said candidate interviews are underway for the space acquisition system secretary position and he expects to make a recommendation to the defense secretary and White House soon.

"We're hopeful that the Congress in this [National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022] will give us the opportunity to give acquisition authorities to the new assistant secretary sooner than a year from now," Kendall told reporters Sept. 20 during the Air Force Association's annual Air Space Cyber conference in National Harbor, Md.

Kendall said he was "reasonably happy with the pace" of the process and that, "hopefully, given the time it takes to get somebody nominated and confirmed, by the time that that person arrives in office, they'll also have the authorities they need to do their job."

The secretary's comments come after lawmakers pressed for answers on the vacancy and its effect on the Space Force's funding. House and Senate drafts of the 2022 defense policy bill include provisions that allow the Air and Space Force to hire a chief buyer before Oct. 1 2022, amending current legislation.

The secretary also told reporters he was looking into concerns raised by the Air Force's chief software officer, Nicolas Chaillan, who announced his resignation earlier this month over frustrations with bureaucracy and funding.

"At this point, I am just tired of continuously chasing support and money to do my job. My office still has no billet and no funding, this year and the next," Chaillan wrote in a memo.

Kendall said that "a lot of the things that [Chaillan is] raising, he has brought up before in the context of doing his job as a software advisor." The secretary said the services have been looking into his concerns and that he would follow up on how they're addressed.

"I think he has some concerns that I think are being addressed. And I'm going to continue to look into that and make sure that they are," Kendall said.

Darlene Costello, the Air Force's acting acquisitions chief, told reporters Sept. 21 that her office was reviewing concerns laid out by Chaillan in his resignation missive.

"Every recommendation that he made in a constructive manner we are using and going to continue to proceed with even after he moves on."

Costello said during his tenure, Chaillan "has really helped us move forward in things that we need to change in the Department of the Air Force relative to improving our software skills. So all of his recommendations that he makes we take seriously and we look into and see what we can do about this."

Addressing one of Chaillan's criticisms that some program managers lack technical expertise needed, Costello agreed, saying "we don't have, necessarily, all the right talents in the right place, but we also don't have an infinite amount of talent either. So looking at what is the right balance of that is absolutely one of the things that we're working with our personnel team, and we'll continue to work with our program teams to see what we can do to optimize those people who are put in programs like that."

Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson, the military deputy for Air Force acquisitions, said he didn't necessarily agree that Air Force program managers lacked the technical background required for the position. "I'm not sure there was anything new in his set of recommendations that we didn't know about and that we're not working," Richardson said. "We will always put people in those positions that are qualified and I'll just leave it at that."

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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